From Pencils to Oils: Charting Artist Stephanie Guajardo from "Graphite to Brushes"

It took a few wrong turns and a few repeat trips around the Loop before we were able to find the East End Studio Gallery, where artist Stephanie Guajardo's solo exhibition, "Graphite to Brushes," was opening. It wasn't the normal social fete we were used to; instead, the enclave lay on the outskirts of Downtown and was more of a family reunion than an art opening. Still, we braved the raised eyebrows of cousins and aunts and made our way to Guajardo, who was happy to talk to us.

We learned that what lay sprawled throughout the gallery that evening was bigger than a sample showing of art; it was a timeline of all of Guajardo's works and self-taught evolution as an artist, starting from pencil and paper paintings in 2002, graduating to watercolors, acrylics and, most recently, oils.

The Dallas-bred artist started painting as a way to not only develop the natural talent her friends and family praised her for, but to also regain a Mexican-American culture she never learned about as a child.

One of her inspirations on her journey to learning about her heritage was legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose image is the main theme of the entire exhibit. She is there on the far left, in a 2004 black-and-white graphite sketch called For Frida, where Guajardo's journey as an artist started. And Kahlo is in 2008's Viva la Vida painting, an ironic name for a chair-bound depiction of the artist in her last stages of life.

"I find her pain inspiring," Guajardo said.

Most recently, Kahlo is featured in 2011's My Own Reality, an acrylic masterpiece made with only dots of color, no brushstrokes, onto the canvas. It depicts Kahlo as an otherworldly Cinderella figure, her cape held up by two birds and her name engraved on a skull on the bottom left corner.

Kahlo's influence is so important to Guajardo, in fact, that the very first painting she ever rendered of Kahlo is not allowed to be on display. According to Guajardo, the painting is too personal and private to be shown to the public.

"I think of her, I dream of her, I don't want to disappoint her," she says.

It's doubtful that Kahlo would have been disappointed by Guajardo. To walk around the gallery and know that each piece was created by an untrained hand is startling. Although on the left of the gallery, one can see the artist's humble trial-and-error beginnings with smudged pencil marks, the works to the right deserve an exhibit opening of their own. Guajardo's incredible pointilism technique is exemplified by her fearless use of color. Whereas Kahlo's once black-and-white image was muted into the canvas in 2004, in Guajardo's 2011 color-packed portrayal, her muse is brought back to life after death.

Despite Guajardo's extraordinary growth as an artist, she says she will not stop until the painting is perfect. "If you look close, there are mistakes," she says. "It's not finished to me."

Luckily, the housewife and full-time artist has her own studio at home, a gift, she says, that many other artists don't enjoy.

"I have the freedom to be an artist. I think it's a great gift. I don't hold back."

East End Studio Gallery's hours are by appointment. To schedule a visit, email eestudiogallery @ gmail . com. 708 C Telephone Road .

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